A Beginner's Guide to Slow Beauty

Slow beauty is a newish term you might have heard floating around. How can we keep up with all the jargon, am I right? Well this one is relatively straightforward to wrap your mind around, so let’s dive right in! This guide is a beginner level overview of the term SLOW BEAUTY, and how that’s different from the more commonly heard terms like “green beauty” or “clean beauty” and why it matters. We will explore important definitions, attributes and distinctions as they relate to slow beauty, and what to look for out in the real world.


Part I: Define Slow Beauty

To define slow beauty it might be easier to look at it’s opposite and draw distinctions off that. The opposite of slow beauty is fast beauty. Fast beauty, like fast fashion, is a highly profitable and exploitative business model. Fast beauty is heavily focused on trends, the “latest and greatest” ingredients, enormous scale, and mass-producing beauty products at a low cost. This usually results in cheap “sweatshop” labor and poverty wages for workers, as well as increased pollution, pesticide and fossil fuels use. Resulting in the exploitation of people and planet.

So it stands to reason, that slow beauty would be the opposite. Slow beauty prioritizes a community-based business model rather than exploitative. This doesn’t mean vilifying wealth building or money in general, but rather the use of exploitative practices to attain that wealth. Earning money does not come at the cost of our fellow human beings. Therefore, the slow beauty business model would make sure that workers throughout the supply chain are paid a living wage (ideally above the minimum), and ethical business practices that help build community wealth and healthy economic systems. 

Now let’s discuss scale and trends. In slow beauty, there’s going to be significantly less emphasis on the “latest and greatest” trends and ingredients in their marketing. Because trends ultimately result in waste when the popularity moves on to another trend. Instead, slow beauty will focus on high quality, longevity, staples, tried and trues, and multifunctional or multipurpose products in their product lines (and marketing). This allows scale to grow organically and it produces less waste on both the manufacturing side and the consumer side. With the slow beauty business model, the products are made with high quality ingredients and formulations -- meaning the consumer is more likely to buy what they actually need rather than stockpiling, and they will get the most out of their product with the least amount of waste generated as humanly possible. This is also the main way slow beauty is different from other terms like “green beauty” and “clean beauty.” Because a brand can be “clean” or “green” but if they are a large-scale operation and mass producing their products, at best they do not fit within a slow business model, and at worst they are greenwashing.

Finally, let’s dive into the environmental impacts. Slow beauty in practice will result in less negative environmental impacts because natural resources and ecological systems aren’t pushed to their limits for mass production. Emphasis is placed on small, local, regenerative and sustainable practices which allow for abundance to be experienced by every living and non-living entity within the supply chain. Therefore, species will not be harvested to the brink of their existence and farming practices will not be so exploitative that the small farmers have to lose their livelihood. In slow beauty, care and intention is taken to ensure that people and planet are the main priority. Which brings us to the next point, how it looks in practice and the viability of this business model.

Part II: Slow beauty in practice

Critics may say, “well slow beauty seems like a lot of money, work and effort to implement. In theory I support it, but I need to make a living too and as a business model this seems unsustainable for brands.” I hear this, and let me just offer this thought: one can experience abundance without greed. This doesn’t have to be an “either or” scenario. Nuance allows us to see that we can have abundance ourselves AND ensure others have abundance as well.

I can pay a living wage for workers, and still pay myself.
I can implement sustainable practices, and still pay myself.
I can produce products on a smaller scale, and still pay myself.
I can market my products consciously, and still pay myself.

If a brand hasn’t come to terms with this, then that’s a solid red flag that they are a fast beauty brand. Growth on a massive scale, in a short period of time is inherently not sustainable. But that doesn’t mean a sustainable brand can’t be profitable. The whole point of abundance is that everyone flourishes, it just means that greed is not compatible. There will be a smaller wage gap between the “bottom” and the “top” within the brand because the CEO won’t be raking in millions while the laborers are earning pennies on the dollar in comparison. There will be a smaller quantity of products in the supply chain based on what the land can sustainably provide, rather than what the market can supply because the CEO won’t be exploiting natural resources past their capacity while profiting off the planet.

A local, small scale brand owner can still build wealth and live abundantly without greed and exploitation. Consumers can and should hold brands to this standard. However, critics of slow beauty also point out that this puts too much responsibility on the consumer of fast/conventional beauty, most of which are lower income women. They want to instead target lawmakers, brands/manufacturers, and investors to take responsibility for the exploitation and unethical practices. In reality, the outcomes are similar. Either way, if slow beauty were to be the standard due to regulation for lawmakers, brands/manufacturers and investors the cost of the products will inevitably increase, like we see in current slow beauty brands. Ethical products cost more by nature, but in turn the standard will be for lower income workers to be paid a living wage, uplifting the most vulnerable to exploitation. 

In the meantime, since there can be some expectations that are not aligned between the slow beauty brand and the consumer, let’s discuss what that looks like so everyone is on the same page:

  • Slow beauty will usually cost more. This is because without exploitation, the cost to make the product is more. Cheap generally means it was cheaply made or the brand is not paying themselves sufficiently to keep up with the market (both are not sustainable). Normalize paying what it costs the maker. Buying less, simplifying routines, community swapping and sharing, and mutual aid can all be ways to reduce costs.
  • Slow beauty will usually consist of a small, local maker with a modest team and supply chain, as opposed to the large-scale and mass producing brands with hundreds of chains or locations. Sometimes whatever maker is local to you won’t fit into the slow beauty model, but finding a maker outside your area that has local & ethical practices where they reside is still a great alternative.
  • How a beauty brand handles waste is important. Do they donate expiring products to mutual aid networks? Do they take intentional and transparent measures to reduce as much waste as possible? Do they only produce what they know they can sell before it expires? Is their product packaging built with waste in mind? How do they dispose of internal waste, and how will their product be disposed of when the consumer is finished?
  • Environmental impacts are important as well. Does the brand use endangered species just because they are on trend (ie. cedarwood and bakuchiol)? Are they transparent about their ingredient suppliers and their practices? Are they transparent about their energy sources, usage and offsets?
  • Transparency and honesty is probably the most critical practice to look for in beauty brands. There is no such thing as a perfect brand, just like there is no such thing as a perfect consumer. There will always be room for improvement and times where clarification is needed. The important thing is seeing progress and noticing genuine, consistent, and intentional improvements in the right direction.

Now we can say that we better understand slow beauty, how to define it, how to distinguish it from the conventional, fast beauty business model, and what it looks like in practice. We explored some of the things critics have to say about slow beauty, and provided nuance to the discussion. And finally, we looked at some red flags and things to look for when opting for slow beauty. As a consumer, finding brands that check off all your boxes is a challenge. Take advantage of this guide to help take the guesswork out of choosing slow beauty brands.